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Koreas to hold talks on reopening Kaesong complex

By K.J. Kwon, CNN
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Thu July 4, 2013
South Korean troops stand at a checkpoint on a road leading to North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Complex in April.
South Korean troops stand at a checkpoint on a road leading to North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Complex in April.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Talks set to be held at building on North Korean side of neutral border village
  • Joint industrial complex at Kaesong closed in May amid increasing tensions
  • Some $2 billion worth of goods have been produced in Kaesong since operations began in 2005

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Pyongyang has agreed to South Korea's offer for working-level talks on reopening the suspended joint industrial complex at Kaesong, the South Korean Unification Ministry said.

The talks are scheduled to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday (9 p.m. Friday ET) at Tongilgak, an administrative building on the North Korean side of the neutral border village of Panmunjom.

Kaesong, which is a bellwether of North-South ties, was closed this spring -- a casualty of increasing tensions between the two Koreas after the North warned that war could erupt.

Each side will have three-member delegations, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said, citing the Seoul government.

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"The agreement came after North Korea, revising its earlier stance, did not insist that South Korean businessmen should be allowed to visit their plants in Kaesong at the same time or ahead of the government contact," Yonhap reported. "South Korea maintained that government contact should precede any visit to Kaesong by South Korean businessmen."

The North wanted the talks to be held at Kaesong and with South Korean businessmen permitted to accompany the delegation, proposals the South rejected.

Seoul's proposal for talks came a day after North Korea invited businessmen from South Korean companies to return to the zone to check on their facilities and equipment.

The talks "were in consideration of the damages to the companies operating in Kaesong after three months of suspension and the beginning of monsoon season," Kim Hyung-suk, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing. "The Kaesong issue can only be resolved through dialogue by government authorities."

The operation was completely shut down in May when the last remaining South Korean workers left the facilities, but work had been winding down for about a month amid heightened tensions. In April, North Korea restricted South Korean workers' access to the zone. Workers had to leave when supplies such as food, water and raw materials were cut off.

Read: Nuclear weapons: Who has what?

The North-South tensions seemed to be easing somewhat after Pyongyang agreed to high-level talks with the South in June. Those talks were called off at the eleventh hour after disagreements over the level of the delegates who would represent each side.

On Wednesday, North Korea also restored the Panmunjom communication hotline with the South, which had been cut off repeatedly over the past four months.

Read: Pondering Pyongyang: Beijing's problem child

"North Korea is probably feeling an unprecedented level of diplomatic isolation with pressures coming from the international community. It is also fully aware of the value of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which provides a considerable amount of hard foreign currency," said Kim Tae-woo, former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"But stirring tensions, then going back to dialogue, is part of North Korea's usual tactics. We don't need to attach too much weight to this easing of tension," he added.

North Korea already had barred South Korean workers from entering the complex before May. In 2008, access was restricted after a human rights group distributed propaganda leaflets via balloon into North Korea. South Korean workers were blocked again in 2009 during an annual U.S.-South Korean military drill.

Some $2 billion worth of goods have been produced in Kaesong between initial operations in 2005 and the end of 2012, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

The average wage for North Korean workers in Kaesong Industrial Complex is $134 per month, according to the South Korean ministry. North Korean authorities take about 45% of their wages for various taxes.

CNN's Diana Magnay and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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